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Mbaka: Priest, Politician Or Renegade?- by Reuben Abati


Mbaka

Catholic priests in Nigeria have always captured the public imagination, some of them have served in government positions, some were prominent in the fight and struggle for democracy, some of them have proved their mettle as poets, teachers, musicians, social critics, and public affairs commentators, but Rev. Fr. Ejike Camillus Anthony Ebenezer Mbaka is a cut above the rest, not necessarily in terms of intellect or persona, but in terms of how he has been able to use the pulpit to acquire a rock star status.

It is therefore not surprising that everything about him is with a touch of the histrionic. This is exactly what happened when he was transferred, last week, from a parish where he had served for 20 years: from Christ the King Parish, GRA Enugu, to Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, Umuchigbo, Njinike, Enugu. Characteristically, this radical priest and social activist turned what should be a routine administrative posting by his Bishop into a melodrama and an assault on the authority of the Church. You would think he had been sentenced to a jail term, the way he whined and wept and appealed to sympathy.

I’m going to suffer because I have no place to put my head. I am going to suffer because I have no place to keep the Adoration Ministry’s assets…The Adoration Ministry is passing through suffering right now even though I’ve accepted that it is the will of God. Is the will of God through suffering? It is a mega suffering. The quantum of the assets of the Adoration Ministry is the only thing I am bothered about for now. Where am I going to keep them? I am going to stay in one small room that has only one small bed, one small table, little toilet and bathroom. So where am I going to keep all the Adoration assets?" I couldn’t believe that this was a Catholic Priest.

His pain was so palpable. He even took a shot at the Church: “I won’t fight anybody or even dream of battling anybody. If anybody allows the devil to use him, the same that advised you to make a mistake will laugh at you when you cry over the error.” This was a clear suggestion that the devil was using his boss, the Diocesan Bishop of Enugu, His Lordship Calistus Onaga, against him, Mbaka and the Adoration Ministry. Rev Fr. Mbaka further spoke with a touch of vanity about how he single-handedly built the Christ the King Parish, Enugu, with proceeds from the sale of his music albums. This priest is certainly special. He objects to suffering even if the Lord Jesus Christ, whose disciple he is, is the embodiment of sacrifice and suffering. He talks about assets in a capitalistic sense, and yet his reputation rests on his commitment to the poor. He finally says he accepts the “suffering”, sounding like a victim.

Mbaka’s melodrama was nothing short of an act of protest and incitement. It didn’t take long before a mob-like group trooped to the GRA, Enugu to help him move his things to the new church where it is said he will be an assistant priest. If his followers had laid their hands on the Diocesan Bishop, only God knows what they would have done to him for allegedly demoting their hero. It also didn’t take long before the spokesperson for the All Progressives Congress (APC), South-East Caucus, Osita Okechukwu issued a statement alleging that Mbaka was being victimized because he is pro-Buhari and pro-APC.

Okechukwu‘s intervention was a needless busybody act. He only stopped short of asking the Diocesan Bishop to reverse himself or get labeled as an enemy of the government of the day. Nor did it take long before the Catholic Church also put its feet down, stating clearly that no priest is above the Church. Mbaka definitely needed that reality check. But he had succeeded in politicizing his transfer and dragging the Catholic Church into mainstream, partisan politics with the Church holding the short end of the stick.

It is perhaps for this reason that the Catholic Bishop of Abuja Metropolitan See, Cardinal John Onaiyekan once asked that Rev. Fr. Mbaka should be sanctioned. He actually accused him of talking “rubbish” when he openly condemned President Goodluck Jonathan and insisted that the electorate should vote for Muhammadu Buhari, then Presidential candidate of the APC, who according to him, was destined to win the 2015 Presidential election. “I do not believe in my mind that the way things are in Nigeria, any Catholic priest has the mandate to decide which of the political contestants should be voted for… I don’t believe a priest should be doing that…If he was in my archdiocese, I will have sanctioned him long ago for the kind of utterances he makes.” Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama. President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), also similarly disowned him. Even with those protestations, Mbaka remained untouchable. He is on record as having declared in a secessionist mood, for example, that the sovereignty of Nigeria is not sacrosanct. “If we must be one Nigeria, let it be one Nigeria, but if it can’t be one Nigeria, let us divide…let us tell ourselves the truth.” He has also since the 2015 elections, made a high profile visit to the Presidential Villa to see President Buhari. He was actually shown arriving in a private jet, waving to the crowd as if he was on a Papal visit to the seat of power! How did one priest, out of over 30 million Nigerian Catholics, become so powerful and untouchable?

Rev Fr. Mbaka’s seeming invincibility lies in his significance and relevance. His Ministry is a loud comment on the relationship between the Church and the congregation. Mbaka is the founder and Spiritual Director of a Ministry within the Catholic Church known as Adoration Ministry Enugu Nigeria (AMEN). Gifted, creative and clever; he is without any doubt a liberation theologian. He runs a prophetic church, a church that believes strongly in the power of the Eucharist, and which in every sense is a church of the poor. His source of inspiration must be those liberation theologians and other radical priests who have proven that for the church to be relevant, it must be relevant to the interests, concerns and expectations of the congregation, particularly the underprivileged poor.

More than any other catholic priest in Nigeria, Mbaka has taken the Catholic Church beyond the confines of liberal conservatism to the ordinary man in the market place. He speaks the poor man’s language, he appeals to their imagination. He is the bridge between the Pentecostal churches and the Catholic Church in Nigeria. He has mastered the tricks, the rhetoric, the antics and the persona of the former, and he applies this with a touch of sassiness that is original. He urges members of his ministry to “Pray Until Something Happens” (PUSH). In an overtly religious and superstitious country like Nigeria, there is never a shortage of persons who are ready to push until the impossible happens.

He organizes vigils titled “E no dey again”. That is precisely what the people want to hear. They want to hear that problems, disease, unemployment- “e no dey again!”. Mbaka also has a Foundation, the Multi-Life Savers Foundation. Note the emphasis on the saving of lives! He pays hospital bills, he gives out cars, he builds houses for people, he pays school fees, he sponsors events. He sings. He dances. He is not your typical Catholic priest. He is rich. He talks about assets. Other priests go to him for financial assistance. He is an all-round entrepreneur in church garments. His Ministry performs miracles, signs and wonders. He makes the lame walk, he opens the eyes of the blind, he cures diseases; he spreads wealth and opportunities. He creates jobs. He provides hope. With all this, Fr. Mbaka is far ahead of his bosses within the Catholic hierarchy. Persons of other faiths and Christian denominations troop to his Ministry to seek spiritual counseling. Politicians seek his endorsement. He controls the mind of multitudes. The Catholic Church is probably in need of reinvention, and the seeds of that process may well lie in the example and eclecticism of Mbaka and his likes in other parts of the Catholic world.

The plain truth is that the average church-goer today is looking for something different which the orthodox churches and their mode of worship do not offer. The poor who make up the congregation are as impatient as the politicians who have made them poor. They want immediate salvation, practical solutions to their problems; they want their blessings here and now, not in a world to come. Mbaka and the Pentecostal pastors understand this and so they bring the church closer to the people’s needs. But there is a flipside and it is hubris.

Hubris is risky and pernicious. It is what makes Fr. Mbaka appear so contradictory. It is what has distanced him from his original vows as a priest, making him talk of cash and assets as if he were an investor on Broad Street. It is what makes him complain of suffering and see his transfer as a punishment, rather than as an opportunity for further evangelism of The Word. He must have started out as a humble priest, but today, he has mastered the use of the media for self-projection and he is not contented with being a priest, he is now enjoying the life of a celebrity, hugging the limelight, seeking personal glory. He runs a ministry of miracles, of wonders and signs and he sees visions of possible assassinations, either of himself or the politicians that he supports. No one should be surprised if this Pentecostal Catholic priest goes about with bodyguards. He shares this hubris with many other religious figures who seek to share power with politicians and co-govern Nigeria. They see visions about everything: from elections to diseases and foreign exchange rates. They have created a New Order under which they command the electorate, political parties and governments.

It is this hubris that has blinded Fr. Mbaka to the fact that the souls to be won for Christ are not only in GRA, Enugu, but in all places as well. His transfer to a smaller parish should remind him of the essence of his priestly vows: humility, simplicity, obedience, sacrifice, as well as commitment to the good of the church rather than individual heroism, values which can truly make him a priest in the Order of Melchizedek. Let him therefore, suffer if he must, and let his suffering be a blessing upon the poor and the Church, and if he as much as whimpers again, let him be posted post-haste to Sambisa forest, where the poor are in urgent need of miracles.


Comments

  1. I have two very good family friends who are catholic (missionary) priests. At the beginning of their mission they were mega excited and eager; 5-7 years later, both are less jovial and mostly withdrawn but do very well in veiling their pain behind grins. The intrigues surrounding their mission are best imagined, and I'm talking about the drama played out by the clergy both are involved with at different countries. I'm even ashamed to spill a drop of what I've learnt because it would mean slandering The Church, but that's just to let you know that even within the clergy, the politics and backstabbing is more vicious than you can imagine, all in a bid to remain relevant...or whatever the warped reasons may be.

    Rev. Fr. Mbaka became a national issue the day he told Nigerians that GEJ was unfit to continue. His popularity dwindled quickly, especially among GEJ fans/fanatics. Some said he should just face "oru father" (father's work). Hundreds of petitions fell on the desk of his diocesan bishop who even hinted that he should calm down on GEJ. He always replied that he's speaking as GOD commands, nothing more, but still the pressure never left. In spite of the pressure, insults, threats, he never insulted any clergy man, let alone his very own bishop.

    This writer has misconstrued the entire lamentations of Fr. Mbaka, tagging it "vanity" and "insult on the bishop". Hilarious. First, it's not a happy moment for anyone to be posted out of a parish he's served for over 5 years, especially when the love within the parish is overwhelming. We're talking about 20 solid years, Mbaka should keep a straight face or pop champaign? Secondly, is it out of place for anyone to lament his impending suffering? Even Mbaka accepted this outcome as GOD's Will. Did JESUS rejoice when HE perceived HIS time was at hand? Third, the writer makes it seem like Mbaka "boasts" about building the Adoration Ministry singlehandedly. Lol. Mbaka has repeatedly said he's not a gifted singer and doesn't even know how to write songs, but that his albums have generated millions is nothing short of a wondrous miracle, and in gratitude, used the proceeds to build the parish which has predominantly poor and working class citizens as parishioners. This is the "boasting" being referred to. And finally, as for the "devil" reference by Mbaka, well I've given you a hint of what my friends are currently going through in the church. The devil can be anyone; laity or clergy, but I seriously doubt it would refer to his bishop.

    I didn't bother wasting time on the entire writeup though, waste of space as far as I'm concerned. Some people should learn how to pick a reasonable struggle. GOD bless.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rather than write my own thesis... I choose to concur with you, Memphis. Spot on

      Delete
  2. Hmmmmmmmm,been reading about this transfer of his since it happened, am.not a Catholic, so I do not know much about him,a I know is the fact that he is a straight forward Person, when he talks, he does so without mincing words. As for all these accusations, only God knows, am not one to talk about God's anointed so as not to offend God.

    ReplyDelete
  3. ''so long a letter'' only God knows those who truly serve him.
    Me, I'm just here waiting for the next sequel to Bloggitup's ''THE TASK''.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Abeg shift and let me sit down beside you. #TheTask2

      Delete
  4. I finished reading the post before I knew it was Reuben Abati that wrote it... of course he would think that, he was GEJ's special Adviser.

    Now, when I read Fr. Mbaka's speech on Linda's blog, it rubbed me one type of way, the suffering part especially and the fact that he cried. Now, I don't know Fr. Mbaka or anything about his ministry. In fact the only thing I do know is that he's a very vocal, radical unconventional catholic priest.

    That said, there's no way you will transfer someone from a parsh he has pastored for 20years and he wont feel bad? And you take him from there and make him an assistant priest? I know nothing about the catholic order and how things work there but anyone would be hurt.

    Thing is, when I read that Fr. Mbaka had been transfered, the first thought that came to mind was victimisation cos he's been at that parish for so long and had been openly outspoken most of the time, how come this is coming at such a sensitive time? And why not make him a priest? And why did it take so long to transfer him? Is it normal to spend 20years without getting transfered? If yes, does the transfer come this suddenly? So many questions...

    As far as I'm concerened, if the Adoration ministry was built solely on God then Fr. Mbaka has nothing to worry about, the ministry will grow no matter where they move him to. People will come from far and wide to the programs.

    Its also highly probable that the bishop wants to also grow his new parish to be as big as the Enugu parish cos that's usually what happens in the penticostal churches(not all the time tho but sometimes).

    #MyTwoKobo

    ReplyDelete
  5. This transfer is one that has been a running battle for years! Fr Mbaka has been at CKC for at least 20 yrs; from his 2nd or 3rd year as a priest n way before CKC was even a parish! Back then it was an out station of the Holy Ghost Cathedral n masses were held at the GovtTech College hall n that's where what morphed into d Adoration Ministry was born.
    He was the one that pushed for CKC to become a parish, grew the congregation, moved for the purchase of the present parish site when the congregation outgrew the school hall n field eventually, n built the church.
    Imagine u put in 20 odd yrs in a company, from its birth to its growth to a multinational, would u not feel pained to have to leave? Especially if the people don't want u to go? That's what this is.
    Inspite of the massive growth of AMEN, he still manages to still be at the heart of it, for those to whom CKC is their home parish, the basic core of his duty there- an exceptional parish priest; he says daily masses, holds office, is in tune with the needs of his parishioners-both high n low (personally makes sickcalls n says requiem) n actually knows most parish families.
    I know he has been up for transfer at least 3rice (transfer rotation is done every 5yrs or so) n each time the parishioners petition the Bishop against it with various reasons. The last concession, reached almost 10yrs ago, was made to complete the church n consolidate the ministry n most thought that wld probably keep him in GRA permanently bt I guess the rate of the growth of AMEN was not imagined. His transfer now is actually cos of the growth of the AMEN beyond d capacity of CKC n its move to a permanent site of their own. His new parish is the closest to the AMEN site n both he n CKC parish knew it was going to happen sooner or later. The distance between the site n CKC does not make him remaining in admin of both effective. Knowing doesn't mean that he won't be sad to leave where has been home for over 20 yrs n that's what has been grossly misquoted n misinterpreted all over social media to create buzz.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Chineke God! I did not mean to write such an epistle! I guess I just got miffed at folks being carried away by the loads of media buzz without sufficient knowledge on the matter.
    Hi TTBVs! Missed commenting jare! (I really need to switch back to wifi)*rolls eyes at myself*

    ReplyDelete
  7. My own opinion?
    I find it really irritating when priests/pastors comment or lament when transferred to another parish.. Now this one has even stayed up to 20yrs... that was what you signed up for when you took your oath of priesthood. everybody wants to stay in the city who wants to win the souls in the village na? I disagree about the posting happening every year like in some churches but the Catholic priests don't even marry so no excuse, just up n leave... it was what you signed up for jor.. there's a quote I like that says..."the best way to prove people wrong is by succeeding at what you do" his first calling is as a Catholic priest before adoration ministry... it's a ministry and should be mobile now circumstances have happened. even if he is posted to the remotest of places, as a man of God he shouldn't be worried as God permitted it to happen n will glorify himself. Perhaps this is the case of the Macedonian church.... he has built CKC spiritually he should go build another parish in need of help. That's what he signed up for when he accepted priesthood.

    ReplyDelete

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